Cheryl Horrobin

Residents call for cuts at town budget meeting

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A crowd of about 30 residents attended the Libro Centre Saturday afternoon and gave their feedback on the proposed 2019 town budget, with much of the feedback being negative.

Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin and treasurer Justin Rousseau outlined the budget, which currently calls for a 2.65 per cent tax increase. Rousseau noted that, when combined with the county and education portions, this translates into a 1.93 per cent increase or $78 on a home valued at $250,000.

The recommended water rate increase is 2.5 per cent and the recommended wastewater rate increase is 1.5 per cent, with Rousseau indicating the combined impact of both rate increase recommendations would amount to an average of $18 per household.

Among the potential new hires could include a communications officer, an administrative co-ordinator, three part-time parks general labourers, additional tourism staff and an HR co-ordinator.

Rousseau, as he did when the budget was tabled Jan. 21, noted the capital budget is about $14.5 million with the only item being financed with debt being the next phase of the Edgewater forcemain project. Capital demands are about $38.6 million per year and $135 million over ten years, Rousseau stated.

Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin, treasurer Justin Rousseau and CAO John Miceli address a question during the Feb. 2 budget meeting at the Libro Centre.

“This creates a significant funding gap that needs to be addressed,” Rousseau said.

With budget deliberations still to come, there were those that expressed dissatisfaction with what they saw so far.

Ken Thrasher said it was gift giving and gift seeking season and told the town “again, you are asking for more.” He called for “belt tightening” and questioned additional staff requests, including from the tourism department.

“Here we are again, asking for more staff for that department,” Thrasher stated, questioning the economic spin-off and attendance figures that the town gives out after festivals. He also questioned whether tourism is a core service.

While stating he is not against festivals, Thrasher added his belief that private citizens and groups should put them on “like we did in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Thrasher had issues with a proposed BIA, stating costs would be placed on the shoulders of business owners if one were instituted. He also questioned the town’s commitment to youth after the sale of 15 acres of Centennial Park.

Thrasher called for a budget with “true savings to our taxpayers.”

“What is wrong with wanting efficiencies and savings?” he asked.

Believing that if he ran his business like the town is being run, he would go bankrupt, Thrasher pressed those in attendance to voice their displeasure to council members, all of whom were at the meeting.

“Enough is enough,” said Thrasher.

Gordon Moore asked about the format of the budget, as he believed it is tough to compare year-to-year budgets. He also said there was a 40 per cent increase in operating expenses in recent years and further questioned administration on the number of employees the town has.

Rousseau said the town was in severe financial distress four years ago and that there were costs to putting the town on the right financial course. In terms of the number of employees, that is contained in the town’s financial reporting statements.

“It’s all available to you online,” said Rousseau. “The town is transparent.”

CAO John Miceli said the town is in the business of delivering services and that “we have added people to match the service level.”

Rousseau stated the debt has dropped about $10 million to about $35.6 million and that reserves have increased by about $10 million. Miceli added the town has converted to a pay-as-you-go model and that “we’re much more stable than we were in the past.”

Gregory Moore believed there should have been a plan in place to accommodate those who use the Lions Pool and Centennial Park, with Miceli responding there is a Libro Centre master plan in the 2019 budget.

“That will look at everything we should have at the Libro Centre,” said Miceli.

Moore also asked about taxation, believing “we have a problem here. I think we are spending too much in taxes.” He believed people are having difficulty affording a home in Amherstburg.

Amherstburg resident Gregory Moore voices his concerns with the proposed 2019 town budget during a public meeting Feb. 2 at the Libro Centre.

“The property taxes are getting completely out of control. Council needs to tell administration this budget is completely out of control,” he said. “When does the hiring stop? When is enough enough?”

Moore also questioned the hiring requests from the tourism department.

Miceli said the hiring requests are based out of the community strategic plan. He added that there was $7.4 million in economic spin-off to the town from tourism and events last year.

Moore responded by stating people want more efficiency from the town.

“They want more money coming in and less money going out,” he said. “Run it like you run your household budget. This town is becoming unaffordable.”

Nancy Atkinson also questioned the hiring requests from the tourism department while Larry Bezaire had concerns about water and wastewater increases.

“I’m on a fixed income and I’m trying to fix my income,” said Bezaire.

Town council is scheduled to deliberate the budget at meetings at town hall Feb. 12 from 6-10 p.m., Feb. 13 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and, if required, Feb. 14 from 2-8 p.m.

 

Budget tabled, first draft calls for 2.65% tax increase

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The first draft of the 2019 town budget has been put before council and the public with the initial recommendation calling for a 2.65 per cent tax increase.

While that is far from the final number – a public meeting and budget deliberations are still to come – that was the number presented by treasurer Justin Rousseau Monday night. Rousseau added that decreases to the county and school board levy demands would bring that number down to 1.93 per cent, or an additional $78 in taxes to a home valued at $250,000.

The recommended water rate increase is 2.5 per cent and the recommended wastewater rate increase is 1.5 per cent, with Rousseau indicating the combined impact of both rate increase recommendations would amount to an average of $18 per household.

Rousseau added that the two capital levies should also be maintained. He pointed out the town’s infrastructure needs are substantial and that is why the levies are recommended to be included.

“Amherstburg has a high value to infrastructure for residents to enjoy,” he said, adding it also creates the highest burden in terms of eventual replacement.

Amherstburg has the the most invested per capita in terms of infrastructure as opposed to any other Essex County municipality, he noted.

Among the capital budget highlights include $930,000 in police transition costs. Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin noted that would be covered by savings from the switchover, the police reserve and a transfer from another reserve that would be paid back in one year.

Potential hires could include a communications officer, an administrative co-ordinator, three part-time general parks labourers, two special events co-ordinators and a human resources co-ordinator.

Rousseau noted that the 2019 capital budget is just shy of $14.5 million, adding that capital spending is up $700,000 from 2018. He noted that all capital projects in 2019 are proposed to be financed without debt with the exception of the Edgewater forcemain.

Capital demands for the year are roughly $38.6 million, he noted, and over $135 million over the next ten years, creating a “significant funding gap that needs to be addressed.”

“Continued progress and planning for the future is key to managing such a monumental task as replacing failing infrastructure with limited funds available,” he said.

There will be a public meeting held on the 2019 budget Feb. 2 at the Libro Centre starting at 1 p.m. Town council is scheduled to deliberate the budget at meetings at town hall Feb. 12 from 6-10 p.m., Feb. 13 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and, if required, Feb. 14 from 2-8 p.m.

Town welcomes new director of corporate services

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg has a new director of corporate service and she brings over a quarter-century of municipal experience with her.

Cheryl Horrobin is the town’s new director, having started her new duties in February. The chartered accountant was officially introduced at the March 19 town council meeting.

“This is the fourth local municipality I’ve worked in,” said Horrobin. “I’ve been to all corners of the county.”

Horrobin started her municipal career in Windsor, where she spent over 15 years in various positions. She was an internal auditor, manager of finance, property and housing, the acting director of finance and department administrator at Huron Lodge, director of finances and social services and manager of corporate projects.

After leaving Windsor, Horrobin spent seven years in Leamington where she was the director of finance/treasurer. From there, she took the same position in Lakeshore where she spent the last three-plus years before coming to Amherstburg.

Horrobin said she has been monitoring what has been going on in Amherstburg and believes the town is heading in the right direction.

Cheryl Horrobin is the town’s new director of corporate services. She began her new duties in February and Amherstburg is the fourth municipality in the region that she has worked for.

“The main thing was to be part of the progress that is being made here and be part of future successes,” she said, noting that the treasurer, human resources and IT report to her. “It’s really trying to continue to develop our people and develop our procedures in a growing community.”

Horrobin said she wants to make sure the goals of administration align with the goals of council and “set us up for success.” She said her family has roots in Amherstburg, with her in-laws being from town.

While stating there is still a lot to learn, she said her arrival in town has been positive thus far.

“It’s a great team they have here,” said Horrobin. “Everyone has been very welcoming and gracious, and I appreciate that.”

Horrobin has noticed there is a lot of people who attend Amherstburg council meetings and she is glad to see the engagement of residents in the community.

“It’s very interesting to see that at work,” she said.

Pointing out she has 26 years of municipal experience overall, Horrobin believes there has been progress over the last few years and wants to continue with that.

“I’m happy to be here and plan on doing great things for the community,” she said.